Lindenstrauss: Bar should improve pro bono program

In report, State Comptroller says legal assistance program should reach out to more low-income Israelis.

Justice gavel court law book judge 311 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Justice gavel court law book judge 311
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
In a special chapter on the Bar Association in an audit report filed to Knesset on Monday, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss said that the organization’s legal aid program needed to do more to serve low-income Israelis in need of legal assistance.
The Bar Association’s ‘Schar Mitzvah’ pro bono program, established in 2002 to provide legal aid to those on a low income, is designed to complement legal aid provided by the Justice Ministry’s Legal Aid Bureau.
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Lindenstrauss’s audit found that while the number of applicants to the program more than tripled between 2005 and 2009, from 1,200 to 4,000, the number of people actually receiving representation only increased from 234 to 244 in the same time period.
The state comptroller also criticized the Bar Association for only using part of its yearly advertising budget to increase public awareness of the pro bono program.
The level of participation in the program and the degree to which it is being advertised to the public did not correspond to the program’s importance, despite it being one of the Bar Assocation’s functions, Lindenstrauss said in his audit report.
The state comptroller also slammed what he said was a “serious dispute” between the Bar Association’s Central Committee and the regional committees regarding the division of powers and functions of each. Lindenstrauss called on the Bar Association to resolve the argument as quickly as possible, because of concerns that it may affect public confidence and damage lawyers’ interests.
Lindenstrauss said the Bar Association, whose duties involve accrediting and disciplining lawyers as well as providing legal aid, plays an important public role because it regulates the legal profession and oversees professional ethics, and its proper functioning was therefore of great public importance.
The State Comptroller’s Report also uncovered other issues, including a lack of transparency about election campaign financing and asked the Bar Association and the Justice Ministry to impose regulatory guidelines, which should be enshrined in law.
The audit also criticized the Bar Association for failing to address lawyer accreditation examinations or the length of the “stage” training period undertaken by newly qualified attorneys, both issues that have been debated in recent years.
The state comptroller also called on the Bar Association to provide more training courses for lawyers, particularly in the periphery, and noted that from 2007-2009 the Bar only held one training course in the country’s southern districts.